Thursday, 18th October

Young victims of trafficking marked Anti-Slavery Day 2018 by delivering a 120,535 strong petition to the UK Government demanding guaranteed specialist support for trafficked children. The young people - members of an award-winning youth programme for victims of trafficking by leading children’s rights organisation, Every Child Protected Against Trafficking (ECPAT UK) –highlighted how the current support system is not fit for purpose for children and leaves them vulnerable. They were joined at No. 10 Downing Street by the charity’s campaigners, anti-slavery organisation Freedom United, online campaign platform Care2 and Labour MP Carolyn Harris - a tireless campaigner for children’s rights.

Trafficked children - some of the most vulnerable people in our society - are often alone in the UK with no family or support system. Having suffered in situations of exploitation, they require high levels of dedicated, specialist support in order to meet their needs, recover and rebuild their lives. In the UK, those suspected of being trafficked qualify for support under child protection laws. However, the level of support provided is often severely inadequate and hugely inconsistent across the country. This leaves children vulnerable.

ECPAT UK has the support of 120,535 members of the public in its campaign calling on the Government to overhaul the current system of identification and support for victims of trafficking – the National Referral Mechanism (NRM). Drawing on its research, experience and expertise, the charity says the NRM must be reformed so that it operates within existing multi-agency child protection structures. The Government must also provide local authorities with sufficient resources to enable them to deliver the specialist care that child victims desperately need.

Alone and afraid
Hanh* was just 15 years old and homeless in Vietnam when she was approached by two women. They pretended to offer her help, then drugged her. She was trafficked to China and across Europe before arriving in the UK where she was sexually exploited for two months, until the day she seized an opportunity to escape. When Hanh finally found a police station, she was identified as a potential victim of trafficking and referred into the NRM. Hanh was relieved when she received an official NRM decision confirming her status as a victim of trafficking - she thought her ordeal was over, but it was only the beginning of a series of challenges that left Hanh desperate and struggling to rebuild her life.

‘I was having a lot of nightmares and was feeling very down about what happened to me. I cried a lot. When I asked my social worker for some counselling, I was asked why I thought I needed it as I seemed to be doing alright. My social worker and her manager made me believe that I couldn’t have counselling. I didn’t understand my right to ask for counselling so I just didn’t ask them again. My foster carer saw how sad I was, but also didn’t help.

‘I needed to speak to someone – a professional who could help me deal with what I went through. I just wanted to get better, go to school and start work, but it was hard for me to access courses and work as I didn’t have the right to work in the UK. I was scared about the future and worried that if I was sent back to Vietnam, my traffickers would find me. I can’t think about what they would do to me as they will know that I talked to the police.

‘Even though I had a letter from the Government saying I was a victim of exploitation, it took over 3 years of court appeals before I was finally granted leave to remain in the UK. It was so stressful. I don’t know what I would have done without the support of ECPAT UK and my friends in the youth group. They have made a big difference to my life and my future. At the group, they help me deal with all the difficulties I have. ECPAT UK even found me a therapist. I’m really grateful to be able to develop my skills, confidence and independence - without ECPAT UK I would not be who I am today.’

One size doesn’t fit all
ECPAT UK’s Director of Programmes, Debbie Beadle, says

‘The current support system for victims of exploitation has major gaps when it comes to supporting children. Through our work with young people who have been trafficked, we have seen time and time again the terrible impact that a lack of specialist support has in their lives. While adult victims receive specialist support including therapeutic services, counselling, financial support, access to legal advice and safe accommodation through Government-funded services, child victims are placed into the care of local authorities who receive no additional funding to meet their complex needs.

‘What’s more, adult victims receive this support from individuals trained in responding to trafficking victims’ needs, whereas due a lack of mandatory training, many local authority children’s services remain lacking in awareness about trafficking, their duty to respond via referral into the NRM, and the specific needs of trafficked children. This means that many children suffer without the assistance they need to recover and move on from their trauma, and they may be vulnerable to re-trafficking and further exploitation.

‘One size doesn’t fit all - the NRM must be reformed to provide child victims with this specialist support. On Anti-Slavery Day, we’re proud to join leading politicians, the ethical fashion industry, anti-slavery campaigners and over 120,535 members of the public to support young victims of trafficking in demanding change.’

Carolyn Harris MP, who attended the petition handover, says

'It was a privilege to stand with child victims of trafficking, ECPAT UK and 120,535 members of the public demanding the Government reform the support system for trafficked children. These children are incredibly vulnerable and it is unacceptable that they may be unable to access the support needed to recover from the traumatic experience of exploitation. The Government must now commit to providing additional resources to local authorities to enable them to provide guaranteed specialist support for child victims of trafficking.'

As part of its campaign, ECPAT UK is proud to have the support of Beulah London, who are donating 100% of the proceeds of their ‘freedom for all’ t-shirt to the charity to help support young people who have been trafficked. From 6-8pm on Anti-Slavery Day, ECPAT UK campaigners and youth group members will join Beulah staff and members of the ethical fashion industry in an awareness raising event at Beulah’s flagship store in Belgravia.

*Name changed to protect the young person’s identity

ENDS

Press contacts
Sinead Geoghegan, Communications and Media Officer, ECPAT UK, [email protected], 020 7607 2136 or 07444 284812 (mobile)

Debbie Beadle, Director of Programmes, ECPAT UK, [email protected], 020 7607 2136